Over the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to put a few hours into a game that I’ve been curious to try since it came out: Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (referred to hereafter as just “All-Stars”). Anyone who sees All-Stars in action will immediate note its similarity to the games of the Super Smash Brothers series (referred to hereafter as just “Smash Bros”). Having playing and enjoyed the games in the Smash Bros series, I was curious to see how All-Stars stacked up by comparison. That said, I have to admit that I came to All-Stars with a fair amount of bias against it. When a particular type of game has been so thoroughly dominated by a single series for so long, there is a tendency to view newcomers with suspicion and sometimes even contempt. Having played the Smash Bros games for so long, I was a bit skeptical when All-Stars was announced and the initial details and gameplay footage came out. It was going to be a mediocre game. It had to be. Only Smash Bros can do this sort of game right. It was with these prejudices that I began my foray into All-Stars, but after several weeks of on and off play I am pleased to say that All-Stars is better than I expected, though it certainly has room for growth.

Any discussion of strengths and weakness of All-Stars as compared to Smash Bros will inevitably be dominated by game mechanics, so that is where I’ll begin. All-Stars works in much the same way as Smash Brothers, but with one critical difference.  In Smash Bros you and up to three opponents spawn on a stage and your goal is to knock your opponent(s) off the stage such that they cannot get back on it and go out of bounds. When you strike an opponent you increase their meter, which is visible under their name-card. As the meter increases they are knocked back further with each attack, making it easier for them to be sent flying off the stage. Each time an opponent is knocked off the stage you either add a point to your score (while subtracting a point from their score) or you decrease your opponent’s stock of lives, depending on match rules, and the winner is either the person with the most points or the person who successfully eliminated all other opponents (again, depending on the rules set before the match starts). In All-Stars this formula is adjusted. When you strike an opponent you are building up a meter for yourself and once the meter is full enough you can unleash a super attack that can eliminate one or more opponents. These super attacks have three different power levels and each one requires you to build your meter sufficiently high enough to use it. Eliminating an opponent gains you points (and reduces points for your opponent) and the winner of a match is whoever has the most points at the end. Though seemingly small, this difference scoring is quite significant and is the focal point of much of the debate of the comparative merits of Smash Bros and All-Stars.
Everyone building their meters.
I’ve gone back and forth on what I think of All-Stars scoring mechanic. On one hand I found it to be a novel change-up from the Smash Bros formula, but on the other hand it can be a bit frustrating to build up your meter and unleash a super attack, only for it to fail and then you’re back to square one. After much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Smash Bros scoring formula is better overall. The way you score points in All-Stars is not fundamentally wrong, but in Smash Bros you get a much stronger sense of progression in knocking your opponents back further and further, making your attacks feel meaningful. In spite of this issue, there are a lot of things that I really like about All-Stars.
Sweet Tooth (left) unleashes his level 3 super move.
Let’s start with the stages. Each stage that you battle in is a creative interpretation of locations and events found in the various games that the character roster is drawn from, as well as few that are from games that don’t have a character representing them. Each stage will also at some point either transition to different version of itself or be “invaded” by a background character or event from a different game. For example, the Ratchet and Clank based stage “Metropolis” starts out in a futuristic city but after awhile it starts to rain and then the stage is invaded by the hydra from God of War. The hydra will attack players from time to time and keeps everyone on their toes. For those who don’t like this sort of thing you can turn hazards off and there’s also the flat arena with no objects or platforms for the purists, but I personally prefer the variety and insanity of the regular stages. As I played through All-Stars there naturally were a few stages that I gravitated towards, but there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t like.
Careful of the hydra.
I was also impressed by how faithful each character’s move sets were to the characters. Although I haven’t played the games of every single character on the roster, the characters whose games I have experience with played almost exactly the way I thought they would. Everything from Dante’s stylized sword and gunplay to Ratchet’s wacky gadgets and Heihachi’s hand-to-hand fighting played out as if the characters were directly transplanted from their original games into All-Stars. Even characters like Sir Daniel and Spike, whose games I have never played, somehow felt right. That said, this faithfulness to the characters’ original games may have also caused some of the issues I had with character balancing, since a few of the characters (I’m looking at you, Kratos) seemed a bit too strong compared to others. True, character balancing has also long been a problem with the Smash Bros games as well, but I do wish a bit more effort was put into keeping certain characters from dominating.
As something of an addendum to my thoughts on the characters, I found the character “rivalries” in the arcade mode strangely interesting. If you play arcade mode you’re given the closest thing to an actual story that’s found in All-Stars, though it is bare bones at best. Each character is going somewhere or doing something and battles their way through multiple fights with the other characters along the way. In the second to last battle, you face off with your character’s rival in a one-on-one fight and settle the score between the two of you. Some of these rivalries make sense, some are questionable and some are just odd. Still, I found myself playing through arcade mode with every single character to see how their story played out for each of them. I could have just gone to Youtube and saved some time, but I was enjoying my time with arcade mode and playing through with each character gave me a chance to try all of the characters out and see which ones I liked.
The character roster (pre-dlc)
In terms of music and sound, I knew All-Stars was going to be good from the very beginning of the game. The song that plays during the opening video caught me within the first few seconds and from then on I was loving what my ears were hearing. Every stage in the game has its own music, superbly adapted from the original game that the stage is inspired by. The music even changes during the stage transitions, so, for example, you’ll start in Parappa’s dojo with an upbeat hip-hop tune playing, but after a minute or so the dojo walls break down, revealing that the city in the background is under attack by a MAWLR and the music changes to the dramatic synthetic sounds of the Killzone games. There’s also a number of small but nice audio touches throughout the game that add to the package, from the background menu music to the various things the characters say throughout the match. The characters are even voiced by either the original voice actor from their game or someone doing a very good impression of them. From start to finish, All-Stars is an audio treat.
When the MAWLR in the background shows up, both the stage and the music change.
Having finished my time with All-Stars, I’ve been gathering my thoughts on the game and inevitably I’m brought back to the comparisons between it and the Smash Bros games. In a sense, All-Stars can be compared to the original Smash Bros game in that it shares many of the marks of a first attempt that you see in the original Smash Bros game: an overall solid game that is held back by mechanics that need a little bit of finesse, character balancing issues and a comparatively small selection of characters, stages and items. At the same time, an argument can be made that the comparison doesn’t quite work because of the differing contexts that the two games out in. The original Smash Bros game came out in 1999, when there wasn’t anything quite like it, making a truly original experience. By 2012, when All-Stars came out, we had seen three Smash Bros games and a few similar titles, meaning that the genre had been well defined and we had a good idea of what worked and what didn’t. In the final analysis the Smash Bros games are better, but I have to commend developer Superbot Entertainment for making a valiant effort in creating All-Stars, and trying to put a new twist on the Smash Bros formula. With any luck, we’ll one day get a sequel.

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